[co-author: Andrew Will]
On October 1, 2021, Maryland’s new Workplace Violence Act took effect. Although first proposed decades ago, the General Assembly did not pass the bill until April of this year, and Governor Hogan signed it into law in May. Under the new law, an employer may petition a court for a peace order on behalf of an employee facing threats or acts of violence in the workplace.
A peace order, similar to a protective order, offers legal protection to someone experiencing problems with another individual. While the law limits protective orders to family or cohabitants of abusers, the peace order has broader applicability. Now, employers can petition for peace orders for their employees for any of the following acts:
- An act that causes one serious bodily harm (e.g., kicking, punching, choking, shooting, stabbing, shoving);
- An act that places one in fear of serious imminent bodily harm;
- Assault in any degree;
- False imprisonment;
- Harassment (as defined in Md. Code, Criminal Law § 3-803);
- Stalking (as defined in Md. Code, Criminal Law § 3-802);
- Malicious destruction of property;
- Misuse of telephone facilities and equipment (as defined in Md. Code, Criminal Law § 3-804);
- Misuse of electronic communication or interactive computer service (as defined in Md. Code, Criminal Law § 3-805);
- Revenge porn (as defined in Md. Code, Criminal Law § 3-809); or
- Criminal visual surveillance (as defined in Md. Code, Criminal Law §§ 3-901, 3-902, or 3-903).
Maryland district courts have sole jurisdiction to hear peace order cases. An employer petitioning on behalf of an employee must file within 30 days of the incident and notify the employee before doing so. The court may then issue a peace order on an interim, temporary, or final basis. Importantly, the law prevents employers from retaliating against employees for refusing to provide information or testify at a peace order proceeding.
Many employees are just now returning to the workplace. This peace order legislation represents another tool for you to maintain a safe and healthy working environment. As of now, the bill does not impose liability on employers for failure to file a peace order petition; however, this provision will expire in two years Starting in October 2023, employers may face lawsuits for failing to petition on behalf of their threatened employees.